101 Things You Wanted To Know About The Police But Were Too Afraid To Ask
- Part 3 -

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative *

Manipur Police Raising Day Parade at 1st Bn on October 19 2011
"Manipur Police Raising Day Parade at 1st Bn on October 19 2011 :: Pix by Bullu Raj

51. Can the police do anything they want?
Not at all. They can only do what is lawful. In fact, they are very strictly governed by many, many rules. These include their own regulations, the procedures laid down by the criminal codes, the orders given by the Supreme Court and the guidelines of the human rights commissions.

52. But supposing police officers do not obey them?
You can complain to his senior or to the magistrate depending on how serious the matter is. It is always better to complain in writing and get a receipt.

53. What can I complain of?
You can complain of any wrong-doing by a police officer because he is a public servant bound to do his duty at all times. He cannot neglect his duty, or delay doing it.

54. But suppose the police officer is rude and insulting to me?
Again, you can complain to his senior if it is a matter of breach of duty or discipline. But if it is anything more serious than that or amounts to a crime then you can file a complaint against him at a police station or go straight to the local judicial magistrate and file a complaint.

55. But if I file a complaint with the local police station they may refuse to take it against their own officer?
Yes, that does happen often. But it need not be the end of the matter. You can take a complaint about rude or discourteous behaviour or neglect of duty or abuse of police power to the chief of police or if it amounts to a crime you can take it to the nearest magistrate.

56. But it is so difficult to take matters to court and it also takes very long!
To make it simpler to bring complaints against the police and to make the process easier and quicker some States have set up police complaints authorities. They are special bodies whoonly look at complaints about the police from the public. In addition, anyone who has a complaint against the police can take it to the many other commissions that have been set up at the national level and in the States.

These include: the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions; the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission; the National Commission for Women and similar State Commissions; and the Commission for Children. For issues related to corruption there is the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, Lok Ayuktas and the State Vigilance Departments. These commissions will look into your complaint, make inquiries and according to their powers can direct an FIR to be registered against the policeman or order compensation to be given to the victim.

57. Suppose I want to tell the police about a crime, what do I do?
If it is a serious crime like theft, housebreaking, eve-teasing, assault, molesting a child, rape, kidnapping, trafficking, and even rioting you can immediately file an FIR directly with the head of the local police station and they are bound to take it down in writing and give you a copy. You can even go to the magistrate with your complaint and he will register it.

58. What is an FIR?
That is the just short form for First Information Report. A victim, witness or any other person knowing about a "cognisable" offence can file an FIR. What you say in the FIR will start the police making inquiries about the matter and gathering facts to see if there is a case that can be made out.

59. Do I have to go only to the local police station or can I file my FIR with any police station?
You can file an FIR in any police station. But it is better to go to the local police station in whose jurisdiction the crime occurred because they can swing into action quicker. If you file in any other police station the police are bound to make an entry of the complaint and send it to the concerned police station. They cannot refuse to file your FIR saying that the crime did not happen in their jurisdiction.

60. Can the police refuse to file my complaint?
Yes and no. In India crimes are divided into those that are "cognisable" and "non-cognisable". A "cognisable" crime is for example murder, rape, rioting, dacoity, etc. which means that the police can take notice of them directly, register an FIR and begin to make inquiries. A "non-cognisable" crime is for example cheating, fraud, forgery, bigamy, selling underweight or adulterated food or creating a public nuisance, which means that the investigation will start only when a magistrate has taken the complaint on record and directs the police to investigate.

The way of understanding this rough division is that crimes that need a more urgent response can be complained of directly to the police and others go to the magistrate. So, even if the police cannot take your complaint on board they should at the very least listen to you, enter your matter in the daily diary, give you a signed copy of the entry, free of cost, and direct you to take it to the magistrate.
61. Suppose my complaint is about a "cognisable" offence but the station house officer refuses to register it. Then what can I do?
You can still get it registered by taking the complaint to a senior officer/head of district police or to the nearest judicial magistrate and they will order it to be registered.

To make sure that your complaint is on record and will be followed up, hand deliver the complaint or if you send it by post, register AD it. In any case, always get a receipt that proves that it has been received and keep that safely. That will show that the complaint has been actually received by the concerned officer. That takes care of your complaint but you should also complain about the difficulty you have had in registering your matter in the first place. That way the officer is less likely to do it again.

62. What must be put down in an FIR?
The FIR is your version of the facts as you know them or as they have been told to you. It is always better if you know the facts first-hand but it is not necessary that you yourself have seen the offence. Whichever it is, you must only give correct information. Never exaggerate the facts or make assumptions or implications. Give the place, date and time of the occurrence.

Carefully, describe the role of every person involved: where they were, what they were doing, the sequence of what was being done by each person, any kind of injury or damage to property that has been done. Do not forget to mention the kinds of weapons involved. It is best to get all these facts and circumstances recorded as soon as possible. If there is some delay in recording a complaint make sure the reason for the delay is also written down.

63. How can I be sure that the police have written what I told them correctly?
Remember that the FIR is your version of what you know. It is not the police version of anything. The police are just there to take it down accurately without adding anything or taking out anything. To make sure of this, the law actually requires the police officer to read the FIR out to you and it is only once you agree with what is written that you need to sign it. The police must also give you a true copy of it free of cost. The FIR is recorded in the FIR register and a copy goes to a senior officer and to the magistrate.

64. What happens once my FIR is filed?
The FIR sets the police investigations in motion. As part of that, the police may speak to victims and witnesses, record statements including dying declarations, check out the crime scene, send articles for forensic examination and bodies for post-mortem as necessary, question several people and with each lead make further investigations. Once investigations are complete, the officer in charge must make a full record of it. This is called a challan or chargesheet.

65. What is a challan or chargesheet?
After all investigations are done the officer in charge will look at the facts and decide if there is enough evidence to show that a crime has been committed and record it in the chargesheet for the prosecution and the court. If all the elements of a crime are not made out it will be a waste of time to bring the accused to court. The prosecution and the court will examine the chargesheet independently to see if a possible crime is made out.

66. Will the police automatically arrest everyone named in the FIR?
No, and they should not. Just because someone is named in an FIR is no reason to arrest a person. It is only when there is sufficient ground for believing that a person may have committed a crime that the police can arrest him.

67. Can the police close my complaint and not take further action?
Yes. If after making their own inquiries the police decide that there are no facts that support the idea that a crime was committed or there is not enough evidence to support allegations or acknowledge that a crime has been committed but the people who did it are not known Ė then they can close the case after giving reasons to the court. They must also inform you of their decision. You, then, have a chance of opposing the closure before the court.

68. Will I be kept informed of the progress of my case?
There is nothing specific in the law which requires the police officer to keep your informed about the progress of a case. But it is good practice to tell a complainant how the case is going provided it does not compromise the investigation.

69. What can I do if the police are not investigating the matter or are doing so very slowly or refusing to examine the most obvious lines of inquiry?
There is an important principle in law that no one can interfere with police investigation. That said, if the police refuse to move forward or do it excessively slowly or wilfully disregard obvious lines of inquiry you can certainly complain to senior officers or to the nearest magistrate who can order the police officer to investigate and he can as well call for the record of investigation. Again it is important for you to ensure that everything is done in writing and a record of receipt kept with you.

70. Can I call a police officer whenever I want?
Yes and no. The police are overworked and their numbers are few, so the public cannot constantly call them up with frivolous complaints and unsubstantiated information. However, of course you can call the police if you are in trouble, if a crime has occurred or is occurring, if there is likelihood of some riot, if some people are fighting and there is likelihood of disorder, or if you have serious information to give them. But you cannot call the police for things that are not connected with their job. Sometimes people play mischief and call the police even if nothing has happened. You can be punished for such pranks.

71. Can a police officer come into my home unasked and search my home and take things away? Only in certain very limited circumstances. If the police come to your house for questioning they may enter only at your invitation. However, even if the police have reasonable grounds for believing that you are hiding a suspect or criminal, or you have stolen property or an illegal weapon in your home, they can only enter your house with a search warrant from a magistrate. But if the suspect, criminal or object needs to be obtained without any delay and there is fear it will be lost without seizure then they can enter your house without a warrant.

72. You mean the police can just enter my house and take away anything?
No. It is only when there is real urgency Ė for example there is a real possibility that a suspect will run away or if evidence is likely to be destroyed - that the police can enter your house without a warrant. With or without a warrant there is a whole procedure to be followed. The police must have at least two independent local witnesses with them.

The search must be made in the presence of the owner. The owner cannot be told to leave. The police must list what they are taking. The witnesses, police and owner must sign, verifying what is being taken. A copy must be left with the owner. If there are purdah women in the house a woman officer must be part of the search party and they must conduct the search with strict regard to decency.

73. What is a search warrant?
People's homes and offices are private places and cannot be open to searches and entry from any authority without some really good reason. So the law requires anyone wanting to enter to explain why they find it necessary to disturb that right. The police therefore have to go before a magistrate and explain the reasons for their thinking there are goods, papers or people that are hidden in the premises which will help them solve a crime.

If the magistrate is convinced that the police officer is not on a "fishing inquiry" he will give the authority. The authority is very limited and gives the name and rank of the particular officer allowed to enter that particular place and is issued under the sign and seal of the court.

74. If I am walking down the street, can a police officer stop me and ask me anything he likes?
No. In general the police are not supposed to interfere with people going about their lawful business. But if they think that someone is loitering in a place especially after dark, he is entitled to stop and ask your name and what you are doing. If there is something suspicious or fishy about the whole thing then you can be arrested. Police use this power often as a means of rounding up suspected persons and habitual offenders. The over-use of this power has often been discussed by reform committees and condemned.

75. Can the police stop me from being part of a procession or street meeting?
No one can stop you from taking part in a peaceful procession. But ideally a procession must have prior permission from the local police. If they feel that a procession is likely to become disorderly or violent then they can refuse permission to hold it in the first place. If the procession later becomes disorderly then the police can stop it, ask the people to leave and take action if they do not disperse.

On the one hand, the police have a duty to make sure that things remain peaceful. On the other hand, they have a duty to facilitate citizens in exercising their fundamental right to hold peaceful public meetings.

76. Can the police use force in breaking up a street meeting or procession?
Yes. Whatever the police do has to be reasonable. They are not there to punish people. They are there to ensure public safety and that law and order are not breached. So the rule is that the police must only use force as a last resort in controlling a crowd.
If it must be used at all, it must be minimal, proportionate to the situation and discontinued at the earliest possible moment. In fact, the police cannot use any force without the executive magistrate okaying it. The magistrate has to be present and give the order to use force. Then the police will decide how much force is needed.

To be continued...

CHRI Programmes
CHRIís work is based on the belief that for human rights, genuine democracy and development to become a reality in peopleís lives, there must be high standards and functional mechanisms for accountability and participation within the Commonwealth and its member countries. Accordingly, in addition to a broad human rights advocacy programme, CHRI advocates access to information and access to justice. It does this through research, publications, workshops, information dissemination and advocacy.

Human Rights Advocacy:
CHRI makes regular submissions to official Commonwealth bodies and member governments. From time to time CHRI conducts fact-finding missions and since 1995, has sent missions to Nigeria, Zambia, Fiji Islands and Sierra Leone. CHRI also coordinates the Commonwealth Human Rights Network, which brings together diverse groups to build their collective power to advocate for human rights.

CHRIís Media Unit also ensures that human rights issues are in the public consciousness.

Access to Information:
CHRI catalyses civil society and governments to take action, acts as a hub of technical expertise in support of strong legislation, and assists partners with implementation of good practice. CHRI works collaboratively with local groups and officials, building government and civil society capacity as well as advocating with policy-makers.

CHRI is active in South Asia, most recently supporting the successful campaign for a national law in India; provides legal drafting support and inputs in Africa; and in the Pacific, works with regional and national organisations to catalyse interest in access legislation.

Access to Justice:
Police Reforms: In too many countries the police are seen as oppressive instruments of state rather than as protectors of citizensí rights, leading to widespread rights violations and denial of justice.

CHRI promotes systemic reform so that police act as upholders of the rule of law rather than as instruments of the current regime. In India, CHRIís programme aims at mobilising public support for police reform. In East Africa and Ghana, CHRI is examining police accountability issues and political interference.

Prison Reforms: CHRIís work is focused on increasing transparency of a traditionally closed system and exposing malpractice. A major area is focused on highlighting failures of the legal system that result in terrible overcrowding and unconscionably long pre-trial detention and prison overstays, and engaging in interventions to ease this. Another area of concentration is aimed at reviving the prison oversight systems that have completely failed. We believe that attention to these areas will bring improvements to the administration of prisons as well as have a knock-on effect on the administration of justice overall.

* CHRI - Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative wrote this for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on November 27, 2011.

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